Ahead of the start of the new school year, Alexandria City High School (ACHS) Principal Alexander Duncan issued a warning reminder that students are “discouraged” from going to nearby shopping centers during school hours.
The specific shopping center isn’t named, but it’s no secret that the Bradlee Shopping Center has been afflicted with violence in recent years linked to students from the nearby ACHS. There have been multiple shootings and brawls, including one that ended with the murder of 18-year-old Luis Mejia Hernandez in the parking lot of the Bradlee Shopping Center.
“Students are strongly discouraged from patronizing local shopping centers or establishments during school hours (unless permission has been received per the process shared above),” Duncan said in a message to ACHS students and families. “This constitutes ‘skipping class’ and is in direct violation of our attendance policy and the Student Code of Conduct.”
Duncan said that ACHS is partnering with the Alexandria Police Department and the shopping centers to increase police presence and deter truancy. The new ACHS Principal said the concern is not only about safety and security, but students missing vital instructional time.
“Please be advised that students will face disciplinary consequences by ACHS administration for intentionally missing class to patronize local shopping centers, and will also be held accountable for any behaviors when they are supposed to be in school,” Duncan said. “I am confident that we all agree that our students need to be in their classrooms engaged in learning.”
The tragic killing was, however, just part of a string of violent events that have occurred in the shopping center. There have been multiple shootings at the Bradlee Shopping Center in recent years as well as brawls.
Still, some shop owners say an increased police presence since the murder has helped calm some of the crime in the shopping center. Just this week, WUSA9 reported that Alexandria Police will be increasing their presence at the Bradlee Shopping Center after school lets out.
A 17-year-old former Alexandria City High School student was found guilty Tuesday for last year’s fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Luis Mejia Hernandez in the parking lot of the Bradlee Shopping Center.
Judge James C. Clark found the teen guilty of second-degree murder and murder by mob and said that the case is a tragedy for all involved. The defendant sat silently as Clark rendered his decision at the conclusion of the two-day bench trial. He faces between five-to-40 years in prison for the second-degree murder charge and five-to-40 years for the murder by mob, or lynching, charge.
“(The defendant) injected himself into that fight,” Clark said while rendering his verdict, and said that the suspect “made the unspeakably poor decision to approach Mr. Mejia Hernandez and interject himself in a fight he was involved with and stabbed him in the chest.”
Clark continued, “There was clearly a mob in the Bradlee parking lot. (The defendant) injected himself in that fight, not in the heat of passion or out of fear of Luis Mejia Hernandez.”
The stabbing occurred during a brawl between two rival gangs of Alexandria City High School teenagers on Tuesday, May 24, 2022 — a week before graduation. The fight was over within one minute, and Mejia Hernandez was fatally stabbed in the heart. An autopsy showed that he also had abrasions to his neck, chin, the back of his hands, abdomen and knees, according to the medical examiner who testified that the cause of death was a 7/8-inch stab wound to the chest.
“I’m very happy,” said Osmin Mejia Romero, the victim’s father, after Clark announced the verdict.
Defense attorney Sebastian Norton argued that his client acted in self-defense, was frightened and not a member of the mob — all claims that Clark refuted when announcing his verdict. Norton showed still images from videos of the incident revealing Mejia Hernandez winding up his right hand to strike the defendant, and said that the stabbing was “tragically an unlucky shot.”
The defendant told police during his interrogation that two rival gangs, which he dubbed “Chiri” and “West,” agreed to fight that day at the Bradlee Shopping Center.
“(The defendant) reasonably feared death or great bodily harm,” Norton said. “What happened on May 24 was a tragedy.”
Commonwealth’s Attorney David Lord said that the defendant callously found the fight he was looking for.
“Fifty random students of a city high school didn’t meet near the McDonald’s in order to eat cheeseburgers and ice cream,” Lord said. “(The defendant) was looking for a fight that day and he found one.”
The defendant is being held in the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center and will be sentenced on September 28. Clark has the option to sentence him entirely as a juvenile or adult, or combining a juvenile and adult sentence. Clark said that between now and September should give him time to determine the character of the defendant and whether he’s a “gang banger.”
A driver was hospitalized after she drove her car into Robcyns (3660 King Street) at the Bradlee Shopping Center.
The incident occurred around 3:20 p.m., according to the dispatch.
The driver was taken away on a stretcher and told ALXnow they accidentally hit the gas instead of the brake.
“What’s important is that everyone is okay,” said owner Meghan Herzing. “The lady, the driver, is a customer. I know her, and she was crying and profusely apologizing.”
The crash is not even the first of its kind this year: another driver sent their car through the front window of the nearby Tropical Smoothie Cafe in February.
“Over the last six years this has happened to the Hallmark store, the Shoe Repair store, Starbucks and Tropical Smoothie,” Herzig said. A driver also slammed into the front of the Capital One bank branch at the shopping center a few years ago.
The vehicular mayhem at the Bradlee Shopping Center is in addition to a recent shots fired incident, last year’s fatal stabbing, and safety concerns about loitering teenagers among employees at the center.
James Cullum and Vernon Miles contributed to this story
Adding police presence to high-crime areas, putting more cops in communities and strategically placing mobile camera units are just a few of the initial strategies that the Alexandria Police Department is employing to confront a crime surge.
APD Assistant Chief Easton McDonald briefed City Council on the uptick on Tuesday night, and also said that there is an increase in juvenile crime and crimes being committed by young people.
“There is an uptick with juveniles,” McDonald told Council. “From April 1 to April 23, there have been approximately 27 encounters with juveniles that have either been charged with illegal weapons possession, drugs with the intent to sell, grand larceny of a vehicle where we had four juveniles that (allegedly) stole a vehicle, fled from the vehicle, and there was a weapon inside the vehicle.”
APD reported 11 shooting incidents this month, including three incidents on Monday, April 17. On that day, a clerk at a 7-Eleven was shot in a robbery in the early morning, followed by a shooting in the 1200 block of Madison Street near the Braddock Road Metro station, and then a shooting near a bus stop at the Bradlee Shopping Center. Three males, ages 17, 18, and 19, were arrested in connection to the Old Town incident and an 18-year-old male suspended from Alexandria City High School was arrested for the shooting at Bradlee, McDonald told Council.
McDonald said APD is forming a new community safety stakeholder group made up of local residents and officials to develop solutions, including outreach regarding available youth programs. The stakeholder group is yet to be named and will meet next month at APD headquarters, McDonald said.
“A weapon should not be in the hands of a teenager,” he said. “They should not be held in bookbags, so the stakeholder group is to get back into the communities to let these individuals know that this is not going to be tolerated. This is not something that can continue, and the (city’s) federal partners are going to deal with those individuals who are felons with guns. And we are arresting felons with guns.”
APD is increasing its presence in high-crime areas, such as the West End and Braddock areas, and plans on returning officers to specific beats, McDonald said. The department will also participate in numerous community cookouts and weekly walks through neighborhoods experiencing crime.
“We plan on working with the community to stop this,” McDonald said. “The goal is to reduce this gun violence.”
Mayor Justin Wilson said that APD can be more aggressive around serving warrants.
“We can be more aggressive around warrant service and things like that, where we’re getting out there and going to find people who we know are in the community that we’re looking for and devoting resources to try and to address some of those things,” he said. “If we can get people off the streets that shouldn’t be on the streets who are at risk of committing crimes, I think that’s always going to be a positive.”
Vice Mayor Amy Jackson said that a recent shooting outside a bus stop in the Bradlee Shopping Center brought back bad memories of last year’s murder of 18-year-old Luis Mejia Hernandez in that same shopping center. Jackson said she’s concerned that Alexandria City High School kids will be congregating at the shopping center in greater numbers in the next couple of weeks as they take their Standards Of Learning (SOL) tests.
“The uptick in crime is a major thing,” Jackson said. “We’re coming up on SOL (Standards Of Learning tests) season. SOL means, if the community is not aware, some kids are in school for a couple hours during the day and then they’re in their classrooms and watching movies and studying for other SOL tests. But most of them will be released and they will not get on yellow buses to go home from the schools. They will get on DASH buses that are free fare. What is the plan for Bradlee, because that is happening in the next two weeks?”
McDonald tried to put the three shooting incidents on April 17 into context by saying that APD responds to 400-to-600 calls for service daily.
“The children have an absolute right to walk into those stores and be in those particular areas,” McDonald said. “We are there. Our presence does prevent crime. There’s always going to be a case where that doesn’t work, but we will be there as fast as we can to mitigate what happens.”
A number of shooting incidents occur in the 1200 block of Madison Street in the Braddock neighborhood, in a property managed by the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority. On April 21, there was another shooting on that same block, prompting Wilson to announce the addition of cameras and police foot patrols to the area.
As previously reported, an ARHA resident told ALXnow that he fears for his son’s life.
“I been here three years next month, and counting today I’ve heard at least 160 gunshots,” the man said. “It’s a lot, man. Right outside my back door. I have a four year old son and I had to train him to run upstairs and duck. I’m glad he’s in school right now. I feel like we’re sitting ducks. Something’s got to be done. I’m trying to get out of here. Nobody should have to live like this.”
Kevin Harris is an ARHA board member, and said he’s happy about the plan by APD.
“I’m happy about the measures the city is taking to mitigate violence and crime throughout the city,” Harris said. “Also, I’m pleased with the measures that the residents of the ARHA in partnership with the organization as a whole have been taking for years to keep our kids and families safe. It’s a grave miscalculation and misunderstanding to think that the families of ARHA’s communities are unconcerned or participants in these acts of violence in their communities. These families are just as concerned as their neighbors.”
After a crime wave in 2020, that fall ARHA’s safety committee made the following recommendations to the police department to reduce crime incidents. Many of the recommendations are in line with APDs current strategy to reduce crime.
- Increase police presence in high crime areas by stationing officers in cars in areas that are known for a high volume of loitering to deter criminal activity (specifically for its Samuel Madden, Cameron Valley, and Andrew Adkins properties)
- Increase presence by random community walks multiple times per week (specifically Samuel Madden, Cameron Valley, and Andrew Adkins)
- Increase positive community engagement such as events for the youth, neighborhood educational workshops (knowing your rights, tips on police engagement, how broken laws affect the community), etc. to build a positive rapport with the community
- Improve community relations by door knocking and having informal “meet and greets” with people in the community
- Meet with the Safety Committee and provide training and insight on how to report a crime (develop a special way for safety committee members to contact law enforcement)
- Create a standing monthly meeting between the Chief of Police and the Chairman of the Safety Committee and/or the leaders of the Safety Committee
- Create a police liaison who will act as a bridge between the Safety Committee and APD
- Enforce disturbing of the peace after certain hours to limit the late-night partying and drinking that could lead to violence and crime
- Provide diversity training for officers with the intent and purpose for them to learn how to police different demographics
- Reevaluate tactics for obtaining crime tips (never approach people at home, meet privately away from the community, and create and/or educate people on a discreet way for people to report crimes)
- Be more responsive to calls directly from ARHA communities
- Create a means to hold Resident Police Officers accountable for properly policing their assigned communities
- Create a Citizen’s Police Review Board with representation from various communities throughout the City of Alexandria with at least one representative from the Safety Committee appointed on the board. Sincerely, Loren Depina, Chairperson of the ARHA Resident Association Safety Committee
(Updated 5 p.m.) Police are responding to a shooting near the bus stop at the Bradlee Shopping Center (3660 King Street).
According to the scanner, multiple gunshots were reported by employees at the McDonalds at the Bradlee Shopping Center — where an ACHS student was murdered last year — around 3:40 p.m.
Notification:: In response to a shots fired incident there is a moderate police presence in and around the 3600 block of King Street. No injuries were reported in connection with this incident. APD is on scene and investigating. pic.twitter.com/4qmbGSqqNj
— Alexandria Police (@AlexandriaVAPD) April 17, 2023
James Cullum contributed to this story
Photo via Google Maps
A car smashed through the front window of the Tropical Smoothie Cafe (3610-G King Street) in the Bradlee Shopping Center this morning.
No one was injured in the crash, which occurred just after 8 a.m., and closed the business for the day. The driver stayed on-scene and wasn’t charged, according to a store manager
Contractors are already on-site replacing the front window.
A 17-year-old male was arrested after a fight inside the McDonald’s (3646 King Street) in the Bradlee Shopping Center on Jan. 24 (Tuesday).
The incident occurred inside the restaurant after school at around 3:30 p.m., according to the Alexandria Police Department. The teen was charged with assaulting a police officer, trespassing and obstruction of justice.
No one was injured in the incident, and a weapon was not used, police said.
The McDonald’s at Bradlee is located just a few blocks from Alexandria City High School’s campuses, and is a frequent hangout for teens. The restaurant has seen more than its fair share of crime incidents, including last year’s fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Luis Mejia Hernandez in the parking lot. Since that event, however, police have made a regular presence outside the McDonald’s after school, and also in the parking lot behind the shopping center.
“It’s much safer than it used to be,” said Markos Panas, owner of the Beeliner Diner (3648 King Street). “It has calmed down a lot with the police patrolling the shopping center more.”
(Updated at 11:10 a.m.) Crumbl Cookies, a Utah-based chain of cookie stores, is planning to open its new Bradlee Shopping Center location this summer.
Crumbl Cookies offers a rotating selection of cookies from the classic milk chocolate chip to a “French Silk Pie” cookie. Plans for the new Bradlee Shopping Center location were first announced last year but there was no information at the time on when the store would be opening.
A company spokesperson said the new location will open at 3690-A King Street in Suite 31 sometime this summer, with a specific timeline contingent on construction and permitting.
“The owners look forward to sharing sweet treats and opportunities with the community,” said Cassidy Salisbury, a spokesperson for the company.
The Alexandria location will arrive amid a minor boom in Northern Virginia locations for the chain. Over the last year, new locations opened in Reston, Vienna, Chantilly and Ashburn.
Image via Crumbl Cookies/Facebook
Bun Papa talks a big game, and now they have a RAMMY to back it up.
On Sunday (July 24), thousands were in attendance recognizing the region’s culinary excellence at the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington’s annual RAMMY awards at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Bun Papa won the outstanding pop-up concept in the publicly voted category.
The Bun Papa pop-up is located in the Beeliner Diner at the Bradlee Shopping Center and Bread & Water Company in Belle View. Owners Markos Panas, Noelle Rickey, Doug Abedje and Chef Patrick Tanyag took the stage to receive the award.
“At Bun Papa we make the world’s best buns and we put the best stuff in it,” Panas told the audience.
The team opened their first pop-up last year at Bread & Water in the Belle View Shopping Center, and their second at the Capitol One Arena, followed by Beeliner earlier this year. Panas also wants to bring back another pop-up at the Capitol One Arena for hockey season this fall.
“People want the best buns in the world to salivate over, and eat their burgers, dogs and chicken sandwiches,” Panas told ALXnow. “People want nostalgic, delicious, fun desserts and they want they want it from people who make them feel special, who care, who are there putting out the best possible product they can. Bun Papa is a celebration of us, the community, food, our opportunity to move forward through Covid. It’s just been a ton of fun for all of us.”
At the 2022 Rammys! Congratulations to all of the finalists, who represent the best of our region's culinary and hospitality industry!!! pic.twitter.com/IDRkqpEfSc
— John Taylor Chapman (@j_chapman99) July 24, 2022